Tips on Talking to Kids about the Illness of a Loved One

Tips on Talking to Kids about the Illness of a Loved One

By Dr. Wendy Mogel

Children are brilliant at picking up nonverbal cues, which means that when a serious illness strikes within your family circle, they’re likely to sense – from the change in your mood and whispered conversations – that something is not right.

If children smell a lie or a cover up, or suspect that you are not answering them straight, they will allow their imaginations to fill in the blanks with scary scenarios that may be more terrifying than the reality. Don’t be tempted to conceal the truth – but do be prepared to talk about it in an age-appropriate way.

Because children imagine that they have outsized powers, including the ability to cause a loved one’s illness, parents need to gently inquire whether they are feeling responsible or guilty and assure them of their innocence. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you speak to your child about what’s happening.

1. Prepare in advance.

If your loved one is sick as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it may be helpful to read “A Jewish Psychologist's Guidance for Talking About Coronavirus with Kids” and “How to Talk to Kids about Bad Things Happening in the World,” along with similar resources.

2. Set the tone for the conversation.

When initiating a diff